I’ve written several times here about the case of Troy Davis. I believe the first time was in 2007, when a date for his execution had been set and his supporters and advocates worked hard to stop this. I read extensively about his alleged crime: the murder of a Savannah police officer in 1989 who was shot when he tried to help a homeless man. Nobody was arrested at the crime scene, but the following day somebody told the police that Troy Davis had been the shooter. The police procured a number of witnesses (nine) who testified that they had seen Davis, and at the following trial the jury convicted him of murder, and sentenced him to death. There was no physical evidence, no murder weapon that could link Davis to the crime, and yet — the witness accounts convinced the jury that he was guilty beyond a doubt.
After three dates for his execution had been overturned at the very last minute, the U.S.Supreme Court declined to hear Davis’s appeals on March 28, 2011 — setting the stage for the fourth try to execute him. All but two of the initial witnesses had recanted or altered their earlier testimonies. Many have confirmed in sworn affidavits that they had been coerced and pressured by the police to incriminate Davis. One of the two witnesses who adamantly sticks to his original story is Sylvester “Redd” Coles, the man who first implicated Davis and who has been identified as main alternative suspect by a number of witnesses.
This TIME article from July 2007 provides a good summary of the legal technicalities and financial difficulties that posed grave hurdles for Troy’s lawyers. Another strike against Davis is the fact that his many supporters (amongst them former President Jimmy Carter, Pope Benedict XVI, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu) are pictured as people ideologically opposed to the death penalty, regardless of the guilt or innocence of the accused. And it is tragically ironic that his appeals have been thrown out because the (now recanting) witnesses are considered to be unreliable — but not the first time they made their statements in court; oh no, at that time they were sufficiently reliable for a man to be sentenced to death.
Nobody should be executed as long as there’s some doubt about guilt. I happen to be one of those “radical liberals” who feel strongly that there shouldn’t be any executions, period. But apart from this, I find it deeply shocking that somebody can be given a date for his execution, again and again. Just think about it for a moment: you’re being given the exact date when you’ll die. Not a comfortable thought, is it. No matter whether you’re an agnostic or atheist, no matter what religion you believe in, death and its finality isn’t something to be brushed aside easily. So you go through who-knows-what deep emotions and ups and downs, and then: “We changed our minds. It’s been postponed — for the time being”. And this happens not once, not twice, but THREE times — and I sincerely hope this will happen once more. But this time, given the mental anguish Troy Davis has been put through repeatedly, he should be granted clemency — even if he should be guilty.